Through the Eyes of Us / In Every House, on Every Street

Through the Eyes of Us
Jon Roberts and Hannah Rounding
Graffeg

This is the second book written by the father of a child on the autism spectrum.

Herein as well as Kya from Through the Eyes of Me, we meet her best friend Martha.

Kya, now at school, talks about her experiences there, sometimes contrasting her thoughts, behaviour and preferences with Martha’s.

I know from experience of children I’ve taught that school can be a very confusing place for neurodiverse children, but both girls have their own ways of navigating through lessons, playtimes and lunchtimes, all of which are illustrated in colourful, detailed, sometimes funny scenes.

Kya also describes how she and Martha enjoy different tactile experiences,

and activities in their free time; and their routines are also different.

Martha knows when she feels tired, unlike our narrator whose energy seems boundless; although once asleep after a soothing bath and massage, she sleeps soundly.

Enlivened by Hannah Rounding’s expressive illustrations, this is a smashing celebration of every child’s uniqueness as well as providing an insightful picture of the world of an autistic child.

The book concludes with a list of relevant websites.

Put Through the Eyes of Us in your class collection and whether or not you have children on the autism spectrum therein, read it together, talk about it and lend it to individuals for home sharing too.

In Every House, on Every Street
Jess Hitchman and Lili La Baleine
Little Tiger

The girl narrator of this book invites readers into her house to see what goes on in its various rooms.

What we discover is a happy family engaging in seemingly ordinary everyday activities, but nothing they do is dull or mundane.

The cake baking in the kitchen becomes an opportunity for the family to dance and sing together.

The dining room might be the place for eating a meal, but that meal can turn into a fun piratical party,

while the living room is a great spot for rest and relaxation but also for dancing and singing, mulling things over and talking about feelings.

Yes the bathroom is for getting clean but there are opportunities for some artistic endeavours too.

And the bedroom? Yes sleep happens therein, but so too does play.

Full of warmth, this is a lovely demonstration of what makes a house a home delivered through Jess Hitchman’s upbeat rhyming narrative and Lili La Baleine’s views of the everyday incidents of family life that make it special but different for everyone in the street, as the final fold out spread reveals.

Molly and the Whale

Molly and the Whale
Malachy Doyle and Andrew Whitson
Graffeg

Following a stormy night, Molly and Dylan go down to the seashore in search of interesting items that might have been washed up. What they find however is not what they’d been anticipating.

“Daddy! Daddy! … There’s an enormous whale on the beach!” comes Molly’s cry.

Loading up the barrow with buckets and spades, the father and children head for the beach again where it’s now low tide.

There, with the help of their friends, Molly and Dylan keep the whale’s skin cool and her dad digs a trench around the huge creature.

Then they wait the long wait for the tide to come in, which they hope, will be sufficiently high to enable the whale to free itself and swim away. Molly sings to the massive creature in an effort to calm her own nerves although her heartfelt song cannot cool the increasingly unhappy whale.

Disappointment comes when the high tide proves insufficiently deep to enable the creature to swim off.

Molly is distraught: her father sends her home promising to wait on the beach for the full moon tide. Perhaps that will be higher … and happily, so it proves.

This is the second story to feature island-dwelling Molly, her family and friends. I quickly found myself drawn to the young girl, her empathy with the whale and her determination to save it.

I’m sure young listeners will be too as they hear Malachy’s tale and see Andrew Whitson’s quirky, richly coloured, patterned illustrations of teamwork set against beautiful sea and landscapes .

Mouse & Mole

Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

First published over 25 years ago, it’s wonderful to see what was a favourite book among new solo readers in primary classes I was teaching at the time, brought back in print by Graffeg.

Mouse and Mole are great friends (somewhat similar to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad to whom there’s a dedication of sorts before the five tales herein).

All five of the stories are adorable but I think my favourite remains Talk to Me. Here the two chat together about the possibilities of ‘tomorrow’ be it fine – then a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches is the order of the day. If however the day isn’t fine, then an apple wood fire, cosy armchairs, roast chestnuts, toasted muffins and hot chocolate (mmm!) are on the agenda. Should it be ‘an in-between sort of day’, Mouse suggests ‘we will do something in-between’ … We will tidy up.’ I hope for their sake it isn’t the third option. I doubt we have in-between days in our house!

Salad is the title of story number two and the day is, so Mouse informs his still in bed pal, ‘wild and wintry’. Who can blame Mole for wanting to stay snuggled up in a cosy, warm bed, even with the offer from Mouse of huddling by the fire to consume toasted muffins and roast chestnuts.

Those particular items appear to be favourites with the two characters, one of which consumes large quantities of both.

I won’t divulge what happens in the other three stories – Tidying Up

Stuff

and The Picnic – yes they do finally go –

rather I’ll urge you to get yourself a copy of this new edition that still has as much charm – both Joyce’s deliciously comic tellings and James wonderful illustrations – as I remember from back in the day. Read alone or read aloud, it’s great either way.

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map / Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Ceri & Deri: The Treasure Map
Ceri & Deri: Build a Birdhouse

Max Low
Graffeg

These are the latest titles featuring best friends Deri the Dog and Ceri the cat that introduce young children to specific concepts/skills through fun stories. (Here it’s orientation and design.)

The Treasure Map in the former is an old one that once belonged to Ceri’s nan, an erstwhile pirate, so the stripy feline claims. Ceri’s story of said nan sailing the high seas inspires Deri and the two set off excitedly, map in paws, to find treasure.

En route they are joined by the equally enthusiastic Gardener Glesni, Owain the Optician and Farmer Ffion who are more than willing to leave their respective allotment, spectacle selling, and vegetables to join the search.

Eventually the map leads them within smelling distance of the sea.

But is that treasure buried on the sandy beach as they’d been led to believe by the X, and if so just what will they discover when they dig?

The Bird House tells how the friends come upon a curious little bird while out walking together in town. Clearly it cannot remain on Deri’s head so the two decide to build it a house.

They think carefully about the design – a hallway with telephone for making ‘bird calls’ and ‘a place for all its shoes,” they decide; a kitchen with a plethora of bird seed, flowers, a sink; a balloon-filled dining room , amazing tree-patterned wallpaper, a record player (for listening to bird songs) a bathroom complete with bird bath entered by waterslide

and (obviously) a wave machine. The friends get even more carried away with their elaborate plans; but, tools and materials assembled, can they actually put them into action: I wonder?

This one made me laugh out loud a couple of times, it’s so sweetly silly and I’m happy to report that despite Ceri’s feline-ness, the bird has found two new friends.

If you’re yet to meet Ceri and Deri, I suggest you start here. The friends are a delight and Max Low’s stories are full of charm and engagingly illustrated.

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque

The Academy of Barmy Composers: Baroque
Mark Llewelyn Evans, illustrated by Karl Davies
Graffeg

The author of this book, professional opera singer Mark Llewelyn Evans, is the founder and creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a company that tours the UK introducing children to the stories and glories of the opera through music and storytelling.
His enthusiasm shines through this, his debut children’s book, the first in The Academy of Barmy Composers series. Herein readers follow the fabulous story of best friends Megan and Jack who climb over the gate of Pontirgorffenol village music hall, (long since fallen into disuse and said by some to contain treasure), and discover Trunk. They’re amazed to learn that this Trunk into which they’d both fallen is able to talk – in 43 languages what’s more.

Thus begins an awesome adventure with Trunk, taking them back to 1597 to the country of its origin – ‘shaped like a boot’ – and there to discover ”The ABC of Opera” and the Academy of Barmy Composers.

After something of a crash landing in Florence, Megan and Jack find themselves face-to-face with golden-haired Professor Peri,(aka Golden Locks) inventor of Opera who leads them into the academy hall; there to meet the ‘Baa-rockers’ – Florence’s cool “arty fartys” as the composers introduce themselves.

There is so much to discover but the prof. is a passionate teacher

and the children avid listeners who cannot help but be swept up in the crazy but enormously exciting learning experience,

which ends all too soon.

And so it will be I have no doubt, with child readers who are lucky enough to get their hands on this exuberantly presented, thoroughly engaging book. I love the characters, Karl Davies’ zany illustrations are a joy, and there are concluding spreads giving information on instruments of the time, voice types and the composers. If the whole experience doesn’t leave youngsters eager to experience baroque music, especially opera, then nothing will.
Bring on the next musical adventure.

Helping Hedgehog Home / Grotwig the Goblin

Helping Hedgehog Home
Karin Celestine
Graffeg

This is the ninth adventure of Karin Celestine’s Celestine and the Hare series in which friendship, fun and kindness are the essence. The characters are little felt animals, particularly the Water Vole family comprising Bertram who likes sewing, his gardening lover dad Bert, Grandpa Burdock a nature expert who makes others laugh with his silliness, Granny Dandelion, fixer extraordinaire and Bertram’s mum Beatrice, explorer and inventor.

When a hedgehog in a hot air balloon crashes into the pond while Grandpa Burdock is investigating it for possible newcomers, he learns that the prickly creature has been shut out of her log pile home in the garden next door on account of a new fence. Now her balloon has burst and Hedgehog has no way of getting back.

While she refreshes herself with tea and bramble biscuits, Grandpa’s head buzzes with ideas for getting their visitor home. As his drawings of possible contraptions get ever more dangerous-looking,

Granny has been otherwise occupied, but when she appears on the scene and learns of Hedgehog’s plight, she too gets busy to find a solution.
Her workshop resounds with sawing and hammering and before long Granny reveals something that sends Hedgehog’s heart soaring with happiness …

This super-sweet altruistic tale bubbles over with kind thoughts and deeds; with a papier-mâché hot air balloon making activity and information about hedgehogs and how to help them at the end, it’s a delightfully playful, warm-hearted book for sharing with little humans.

Grotwig the Goblin
John Swannell
John Swannell Studios

‘Where’s Wally?’ and ‘a needle in a haystack’ sprung to mind on opening this photographic book, even though there’s not a haystack in sight.

Narrated in rather creaky corny rhyme by goblin, Grotwig, we share in his ramblings through the countryside: ramblings that, at different times of the year take him, as we see in Swannell’s photographs of topiary, pine and mixed deciduous woods, dry stone walls and hedgerows, ancient Yews and Oaks,

moorland hills and byways, and tranquil lakes, through all kinds of terrain.

There are times when the goblin asks readers to find him (with the aid of a magnifier housed in a pocket on the inside front cover) in the photos, This makes us slow right down and look closely at each of the rural landscapes. In itself, that is a good thing: the photographs are lovely and the peaceful scenes well worth paying attention to,

reminding this reviewer of some of the walks taken around the Gloucestershire countryside.

Children are increasingly pressurised and tend to seek escape on screens rather than going outdoors. A book like this might help to tempt them to do the latter and although they won’t encounter any goblins, there’s nature’s magic aplenty to discover in the great outdoors.

A Boy’s Best Friend / The Mountain Lamb

These are books five and six in Nicola and Cathy’s Country Tales short fiction series about young people growing up in a rural environment, published by Graffeg who kindly sent them for review.

A Boy’s Best Friend
The Mountain Lamb
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Cathy Fisher

A Boy’s Best Friend starts with young Clinton reluctant to leave his tropical island home, his gran and his fisherman Uncle Cecil to join his mother in London where she’s lived for five years. He feels anxious about meeting his step-father, eager to meet new little sister and very unhappy at the prospect of having to leave behind his much loved dog, Rufus.

But leave the island he does arriving in England as spring approaches. At first, despite the family’s best efforts, he feels lost and as though all the light has been leeched from him in this chill, drear place called London.

Then comes news of a school trip by minibus to a castle in Kent and despite there not being the intended farm visit, Clinton joins the party. But when the minibus meets with an accident and ends up partly in a ditch, Clinton takes the opportunity to help an old man, David with his stampeding cows, scared by the crash.

From then on, despite being in big trouble at school and at home for running off after the accident, things start to look brighter for young Clinton who readily takes up the farmer’s subsequent offer to visit his farm and lend a hand.

Beautifully told and full of warmth, Nicola’s short tale of love, change and adjusting to a new life, will speak to everyone, especially those who have had to leave much of what they love to start a new life elsewhere. Cathy Fisher’s delicately worked black, white and grey illustrations further add to the atmosphere of the telling.

Young Lolly in The Mountain Lamb is faced with tremendous challenges too. Her mother has died and now Lolly lives on a sheep farm with her grandparents. It’s lambing time and up on the moor, she finds an orphaned baby lamb so small it fits inside the woolly hat she uses to carry it home.

Fearing that it won’t live through the night, Lolly is surprised to hear its tiny bleat next morning at breakfast time: seemingly the lamb wants feeding. Lolly decides to call it Susan after her mother.

Grandpa encourages the girl to take responsibility for rearing the little creature. She rapidly forms at attachment to it, knowing though that it will eventually have to become part of the flock.

After months of not leaving the farm and its surroundings, it’s time for Lolly to return to school but fog causes Gran to abort the journey and they go back to the farm.

Time passes with Lolly staying back rearing the lamb and helping her grandparents indoors and out. One day Susan goes missing and despite a blizzard, Lolly embarks on a perilous search. Is she to meet a fate similar to her mother whom we learn had died in an accident on a Himalayan climb?

Happily not, for her Gran is experienced in Mountain Rescue.

The lost lamb makes its own way safely back and finally Lolly returns to school after a long, hard but rewarding few months.

This tale of courage and love is potent and moving throughout; I couldn’t put it down.